Posts tagged lights

Yongnuo ST-E2 Review

Canon’s ST-E2 flash commander, if you can call it that, is an ancient piece of equipment if you think about the last ten years of digital camera technology advances. If you compare Nikon’s SU-800, it’s like comparing an analog, mechanical computer with a quad-core machine today. It’s just that ancient!

So why did I get one? Well, I didn’t until I found a chinese copy on ebay. I wouldn’t pay more than US$90 for the real, original ST-E2, but I found this Yongnuo for less than that one eBay. Plus shipping. That sealed the deal. The Yongnuo ST-E2 can also be purchased directly from Yongnuo HK’s ebay store here.

Anyways, it has several advantages to the original. First is that it takes AA batteries. Not the harder to find 2CR5 lithium battery. This means I can use my Maha Imedions with it. Secondly, it can swivel left and right. The original Canon ST-E2 stays fixed, pointing forwards. If you’re not using a radio trigger like RadioPoppers (get them in Malaysia here), how often would you have your flash places in the forward 90-degree arc of your lens? One other advantage Yongnuo claims is that you can control their YN ST-E2 using the camera LCD. Well, that’s because the YN ST-E2 pretends to be a 580EX. However, with the limited functionality on the ST-E2 itself, there’s hardly much benefit to it. I mean if it has the same functionality as the SU-800 from Nikon then perhaps, the LCD control would be beneficial. Finally, the other advantages Yongnuo claims such as increased range, recycling time, etc are just extras to me.

Any disadvantages? Of course. Basically, this is a cheap Chinese copy. Manufacturing tolerances are going to give. Most apparent is positioning the focus assist beams to line up to my 5D Mark II requires a couple of seconds. Once done and the unit it locked down, it’s not a problem. Minor if you ask me for the price I paid for it.

Finally, most importantly to me is I want to use it with my RadioPoppers. The big reason I bought this is so that I can have my 3 580EX IIs doing something else rather than be a commander. Couple that with my 550EX and 430EX II, that gives me five lights to place in my scene. RadioPopper’s instruction to stick the transmitter on the batter cover is for Canon’s original ST-E2 but, for the YN ST-E2, you’ll need to place it a bit forward of the battery compartment. Other than that, it works flawlessly with my RadioPopper PX. Just make sure you gaffer up the transmitter part of the ST-E2 if your flash units are in the same room and can see both the ST-E2 IR and the radio commands from the Poppers…

Book Review: Speedliter’s Handbook

One of my favorite photography lighting books is Joe McNally‘s Hot Shoe Diaries. Joe can really write and its a great book with lots of inspiration and stories behind how each picture is made. Sometimes, you do want a book that’s specific to your camera system and covers the nitty-gritty details in configuring your small flash units. There are many books on lighting and flash but only a couple are really good. If you want a good flash and lighting book that is Canon specific, there’s only one good book and it’s this one. The Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena. Joe McNally started me on multiple flash units and others like Louis and Syl has gotten me to journey down the e-TTL multiple speedlite path. As you start to wander down this road, it’s indispensable to have a book like this.

What I love about this book is that it’s big but not too big. You need space to have nice readable type and space for diagrams, before and after shots as well as some in-between shots for various settings or configurations. The pages are printed on quality paper and it feels good in my hands. There’s technical information and jargon along with clear concise explanations that beat the crap out of those boring Canon manuals. In case you need to shoot penguins, the infamous Canon flash penguin makes a cameo appearance! The best part about the handbook to me is the shoot sections where Syl’s goes through various setups with various flash configurations. The section starts with a single flash and moves on until it gets fun, scary and crazy… like with his gang-light. There’s detailed explanation on each shoot and setup so that you will understand what goes on, why the photographer is doing so and why each piece of equipment is used. Nothing could be clearer or simpler than that — you just need to duplicate the setup and you’ll be able to get the similar effect.

And for those readers who love getting new gear, there’s also plenty of that in the book along with photos showing the effect of each. I know getting new stuff won’t necessarily help you become a better photographer, but sometimes, new, shiny stuff will at least encourage you to get off your butt and shoot more. It’s not a really cheap book but it’s packed full of information. The amount of knowledge gained more than outweighs the investment — yes, it’s really an investment because you can start with one camera, one lens and one flash along with this book and grow your way up!

If you are a beginner, the book is clear and concise enough that you can understand it. If you’re in the middle of working out how to use your flash, this book will help you. Even if you’re a professional, I think this book still has something to teach you. I love the way the information is laid out as there’s plenty of basic to advance information provided for you. Syl starts with the basics and moves all the way down so this really IS the handbook to own if you intend to use small flash in any way (yes, including parking it on top your camera).

My opinion is that this is the book Canon should give you when you buy a flash unit from them! If you have one flash and am looking to improve your lighting, buy this book before you buy that second flash unit. If there’s anything this book doesn’t have is that there’s no rebate coupon for a 580EX II… or a lighting how-to DVD but then again I do wonder when Syl’s going to have a workshop down in Malaysia. Joe’s been here so come on down!

Buy this book from Amazon today!

RadioPopper troubleshooting

My RadioPopper PX transmitters and receivers so far have been functioning great. Stuff that simply works is always a winner in my book. The only problem is that due to its usage of the 900Mhz ISM Band (902-928Mhz to be precise) it’s not available outside the US. This is generally due to GSM 900 being in used in many countries outside the US. GSM 900 technically spans from 890-921Mhz. RadioPoppers translate the e-TTL (or i-TTL) signal of your flash over radio instead of IR to allow the signals to go beyond line-of-sight such as behind walls, etc.

Anyways, I’ve never had problems using my RadioPoppers in Malaysia or Shanghai so… Most radio devices are also capable of working with the noise and I’ve used my RPs in a filled church hall, 100 feet from master to slave flash clamped above the gallery and they still work with full e-TTL and HSS (High-speed sync).

Realized I had the battery covers swapped – The transceiver is actually the receiver and vice-versa.

A friend had some issues with his RPs lately so I got hold of them and obviously, test them before I get one of my friends going to the US to get them sent in. So here’s how to check if your RPs are working fine.

Hardware Reset
First thing I do is to reset them. You do that by pressing X and then press P a couple of times until you reach the Reset menu. You’ll need to hold down the X till the countdown happens.

Reset, reset, reset!

After that, powering on the unit will display the firmware version. I then configure them to my usually preferences; Hardware mode: Canon, Brightness Level 1 (those darn LEDs drain power), Channel 9, Feedback Mode 2 (F2 – no feedback to allow 8FPS shooting). Don’t ask me why but channel 9 works for me all the time so far. Furthest range I’ve got is from the road to my backyard, approximately 130 feet with the whole house, truck in the driveway between master and slave.

Feedback Mode (F3)
Since I’m trying to figure out what was the problem, I set Feedback to ‘3’ which shows the the signal transmitted from master to slave. This code is displayed on master and slave. Easy to figure out if anything’s messing up or going haywire. This worked fine with numbers matching. So I dug out the rest of my RadioPoppers and then tried both the transmitter and receiver and all units synced up nicely. You will get a number, i.e. 11, 15, etc — it depends on your shoot settings but that number will be displayed on all receivers and transmitters. If it doesn’t match, you might have some issues.

Finally, the test was to test from 1/160 to 1/2500 with one, two and three slave flash units. Camera A is a 5D Mark II with 550EX as master and camera B is a 40D with 580EX as master. Slaves are 430EX IIs and 580EX IIs. Transmitters and receivers on channel 9. After 200+ shots, I got tired so, case closed. The shot below was taken from outside my house window, into the corridor with three flash units in each room. Distance to the last flash, 60 feet, 5D Mark II, f/6.3, 1/160, ISO 400, 105mm. You’ll need to look carefully to see the light from each flash. Anyways, test result shows that all transmitters and receivers work fine.

p.s. sorry about the silly bathroom rug 🙂

Speedliting tips, tricks, forums

If you’re a Canon shooter, you better be heading over to Syl Arena’s new site and forum if you’ve always wondered about using flash with your Canon system (of course, other DSLR owners are welcome too).

There’s also a big How-to section which will be growing. There’s one interesting post which shares 15 tips for using your speedlite, including this gem below:

1. Understand that the hotshoe is not the best place for your Speedlite.
I know. You paid good money for your camera and your Speedlite. It’s not that you didn’t get the deluxe hotshoe. You did. It’s just that shooting with a Speedlite in the hotshoe is similar to the lighting used to make driver’s license and passport photos. You cannot create interesting light when the main source of light is parked on top of your camera.

But if you’ve only got one light… don’t fret. Here’s one article for you too!

580EX IIs and RadioPoppers

Joe McNally in Kay-El

Let there be light. And there was light! A one day seminar at Shangri-La KL was packed full with a large group of people already lined up waiting to get into the ballroom. I mean, this is the Shang, with excellent finger food, coffee, tea and all that and people rather just line up to be the first into the room? Anyways, the day started with a short introduction with Louis Pang showing guerrilla lighting techniques for wedding photographers.

More fun was the “krumping” by volunteers and Joe McNally himself as the “father” of the “bride”, Evon. The only letdown was that we didn’t get to see the shots from Louis’ shoot of the krumping. We got cool stuff in our goodie bags and finally snagged my World Tour DVD!

Joe was funny, humble, instructive, approachable, direct, simple, profound and all that thrown in. He doesn’t hide a thing, shoots openly for all to see. His thought process laid-bare. The way he approach the subject, the lights, the step-by-step build up, was just inspiring. Joe started with a single speedlight and built up using reflectors, diffusers, multiple speedlights, EzyBoxes, Octas and more. The gear alone was staggering but the information and stuff he showed were all more important. After all, there’ll be newer bodies, newer lenses and newer flashes but light is light. If you can see “light” and you can direct it, control it, bend it, beat the heck out of it, you’d be good to go! I think I need one of those paint pole thingies and an EzyBox, and more speedlights!

And here are some shots of the day…

Of course I have to have a shot of us and the Guru of Lights… and of course, he signed both my books! Awesome!

Lowel i-Light battery mod

Not as advanced in many ways to Louis’ battery mod but hey it works and I didn’t think “out of the box” enough to use a Phono jack as a power socket. Maybe the i-Light wasn’t that cheap to me that I didn’t want to take a knife/cutter to it so early on in the warranty stage!

Anyways, back to the mod. I don’t do video (but maybe with my 5D Mark II…) so I don’t need serious run time. Weight is an issue since the light and the battery will probably be hanging off one long end of a mono-pod most of the time. The Lowel i-Light runs with a standard automotive H1 headlight bulb. The stock Osram bulb is quite warm at 4800K. Osram automotive bulbs are probably not color balanced and my i-Light bulb temperature would probably differ from one to another. I replaced them with Philips Vision Plus which is slightly cooler (5200K) but most importantly, 2/3 stops brighter at 3 meters (measured with my Sekonic lightmeter). I’m not sure about power consumption but I use them on my 4×4 truck and visibility is improved.

What battery would I need. Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) is a proven technology, and simple to obtain locally. Lithion-Ion is a bit more fragile but packs a higher energy density so the battery pack can be lighter. So, back to high-school physics.
W = VA
Power (watts) equals to Volts multipled by Amps.
The standard H1 bulb is 55 watts. Most cars run 12 volts so that amounts to about 4.6 amps. In reality, automobiles run at high voltages because with the engine turning, the alternator usually outputs about 14 volts. For my first attempt, I made a NiMH battery pack with 12 Maha PowerEx 2700 cells. Why twelve? These batteries are sold in packs of four so no point wasting two but the idea is detailed in the calculations below.

12 AA sized NiMH batteries in series output a total of 14.4 volts (1.2V x 12).

With 14.4 volts, I only needed about 3.8 amps to drive the i-Light at full power. I didn’t build a current limiter into the battery so at full power it probably used a bit more. The other important bit was that to calculate runtime, you need to know battery capacity and the current the light is pulling. Quite easily done.

2700 mili-amp/hour equals 2.7 amps for one hour. 2.7 amps divided by 3.8 amps is roughly 0.71.
Multiply that by 60 minutes and you get 42 minutes.

Of course that’s in a perfect world so I decided to use 50 minutes per hour for my base so 0.71 multiplied by 50 is just about 35 minutes. More than enough for my needs. However, charging a pack of 12 batteries is a hassle and they were unwieldy and heavier than what I wanted. Lithium-ion is definitely the answer but where do I get the cells? I decided to go for 18650 Li-Ion cells. They look like oversized AA batteries at first glance. Since Li-ion batteries are more sensitive, I decided to order a pre-made battery from Battery Space. My choice was a 4x 18650 cell pack. Li-Ion cells output 3.7 volts so four cells result in 14.8 volts. This is also how your digital camera battery is made. Look carefully and you’ll see voltages like 7.4 volts (2 cell) or 11.1 volts (3 cell).

So, I bought this 4-cell pack from Battery space. Excellent service and super fast shipping — I got it within a week. So I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them if you have specific battery needs. At about half the weight of my NiMH AA cells, I also got the Li-Ion smart charger which makes charging the battery pack a snap. The cool thing about this battery pack is that it comes with a status indicator. Kind of like the type built into your noteboook PC battery. Well made and put together, it saved me the hassle of wiring up individual cells. They also do custom packs if you have more esoteric needs. I modified it to take the standard cigarette lighter socket since that was what my i-Light came with. Interestingly, at full power, it’s another 2/3 stops brighter compared to the NiMH pack but ran the battery pack slightly warm so I made a mark at about three-quarter turn on the i-Light’s rotary switch. With the cables coiled and the battery pack snug in a neoprene pouch, it became a flexible light and with the built-in current limiter circuit on the battery pack, I know that I won’t be over-discharging the circuit plus there’s a low-voltage safety guard to prevent running the battery flat. A no-no for Lithium-Ion batteries and it also jacks the safety factor up so that’s always a good thing.

Still plenty of juice after two weddings

How long of a run-time do I get with this Li-Ion battery pack? The cells are rated at 2400 mili-amp hours but at 14.8 volts.
55 watts divided by 14.8 volts (voltage) gives me 3.7 amps
2400 mili-amp/hour equals 2.4 amps for one hour. 2.4 amps divided by 3.7 amps is roughly 0.65.
Multiply that by my conservative 50 minutes and you get 32 minutes, just a bit less than the 35 minutes of my NiMH pack.

So far, I’m happy to report that the on-off-on-off kind of use actually results in fairly long runtime. I’ve used it for two shoots without charging and the battery still is at three dots. It also takes about 45 minutes for a full charge (from 2 dots) and it a small handy package. My next mod will be to replace the cigarette lighter plugs with Phono jacks and to pack the whole unit, phono jack, battery status monitor all with a neat heat shrink pack. That will reduce the messy wire arrangement I have now. That said, Battery space already saved me a ton of work and I could have a working battery pack for my i-Light within thirty minutes of opening the box (time needed for adding the cigarette socket). After this, probably I’ll get a second battery pack but for a more compact arrangement, I might get the square pack or make a more compact unit with Lithium Polymer flat cells. I’ll put up an update when I mod the pack with a Phono jack.

Portable and flexible lighting!