BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Best Photographic Equipment to Buy : Choosing the Right Camera Flashes

Photography Question 
Simone Severo

Using Studio Flash

Is it possible to use studio flash without a flashmeter?
I have a Canon Eos Elan 7e and no flash. I am thinking of buying the Alienbees b800 but if I do I won't have the budget now to acquire a flashmeter.

Does any one use a studio flash without the flashmeter? How do you know how much light you use? I have experience in photographing portraits with available light and continuos light, but have never used a studio flash.

I also need to know what to use to connect the flash to my camera, since there is no "hole" to plug any wire to an external studio flash. What kind of cord should I need with this camera?
Thanks for any help.

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10/3/2003 3:07:26 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/20/2001
  Hi Simone.
Yes, you need a flash meter. There is no other way to measure for exposure without a flash meter. Why not get the B400 instead of the B800 and then get a basic flash meter from ebay to get started. JTL and Interfit make really cheap ones that aren't the best meters, but they would get you started until you can afford a "real" meter. I think the Interfit sells at warehouse photo for $69.

As for the "wires" you need - you will need a PC/sync cord, but this comes with the ALien Bees lights. If your camera does not have a PC 'hole' for connection, you can search Adorama for an adaptor (dedicated to your specific camera) that fits on your Canon's hotshoe. Check your camera manual for info on which sync adaptor to use with your camera. Another choice is to go with an infrared remote sensor that also fits onto your camera's hotshoe. This device will remotely set off your strobes without needing a sync cord. Be sure to check around for info on voltage limits, if any, for your camera.

Hope this helps.

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10/3/2003 6:57:04 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/20/2001
  Forgot to add that you will use the flash meter to find the aperture needed for the shot. Your camera has a sync speed (check your manual) that you must set (in manual mode) on your camera and then you set the aperture given by the flash meter reading. You will connect the sync cord supplied with your B400/800 to your flash meter, which should be set to your desired ISO and sync speed. (note: you can set any speed lower than the sync speed, but never above/faster). Next, you will take a reading by holding the meter at your subject's face (for instance) and pointed toward your camera. The meter will trip the strobe via the sync cord connection and will display the correct aperture to set on your camera. Take the sync cord out of the meter and connect it to your camera via the hotshoe sync adaptor. Now you are connected to the strobe and can take the picture.

Check out Scott Smith's site for more info on lighting and metering.

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10/3/2003 7:03:33 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  The PC adapter for the hot shoe need not be a "dedicated" one for the camera. Any one of the better "generic" types will work just fine. The only thing it needs to connect to is the hot shoe center contact and camera "ground" via the sides of the hot shoe. None of the other hot shoe contacts are needed.

I agree with Piper . . . you really do need a flash meter. Not all come with a trigger socket, especially some of the older ones. I trigger the studio lights by turning on their slaves and using a small hand held flash in a very low power setting aimed straight up and punch its test button when I'm ready to meter the lighting. The light from a hand held flash in a greatly reduced power setting is so low compared to that from the studio lights that it adds nearly zero light . . . especially when aimed upward . . . and it has an equally near zero effect on the metering . . . I'm not certain the difference could even be measured using a practical photographic flash meter.

BTW, even though all my cameras have PC sockets on them I still use the hot shoe adapters. Plugging and unplugging PC cords constantly is hard on the PC sockets. The hot shoe adapter can be left on the end of the cord and simply slid in and out of the hot shoe saving wear and tear on the camera's PC socket and some on the cord plug. It's much, much cheaper to replace one of these adapters than to have a PC socket on a camera body repaired!

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10/3/2003 8:51:46 PM

Gregg Vieregge   Get the 400 lights and use the savings to buy a cheap lightmeter. The 400 will give a more accurate visual appearance with the modaling lights. Don't buy a used lightmeter as used usually means something doesn't work all the time. After a couple tests you have the aperture reading memorized and might not need to use the lightmeter all the time if the speed of the film and shutter remain consant.

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10/6/2003 5:28:42 AM

Patricia A. Cale
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/25/2002
  John: I have a question for you about adapters. I have bought generic adapters, but they do not work with my Elan II or my Canon G2. A salesperson at my camera store said I needed to get the dedicated one for Canon EOS cameras. I am using Novatron lights, which I've had for about 15 years.

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10/6/2003 6:57:19 AM

RoxAnne E. Franklin   Hi there,
I also have the canon elan 7E and my suggestion to you would be to buy a wein safety sync. You can buy them from B&H and I think mine cost around $69.00, not sure, i've had it for awhile. The reason I suggest this to you is because of all the mechanics inside the elan 7E. It protects the mechanical "workings" of the camera and my philosophy is that it's far better to be safe than sorry. It attaches to the hot shoe and then you attach the pc cords to it. If you have a slave or mono light with slave setup, they will all fire when you press the shutter button.
If you have any questions about the elan 7E, you can email me and I'll help as much as possible.
Happy shooting.

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10/6/2003 7:35:11 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
That may be the case with older studio lights such as yours. Current ones shouldn't be a problem.

There is one very important caution about using old lights with some of the current camera bodies, especially it seems with Canon's. Trigger voltage on *some* older lights is too high for the electronic trigger circuits on current camera bodies. The hot shoe center contact (and PC socket) flash trigger on older cameras used to be mechanical and trigger voltage didn't matter much, other than extremely high voltages could eventually burn the trigger contacts on the mechanical relay inside the camera over a long time (many, many firings). Old lights with high voltage triggers can damage the camera's flash triggering electronics. This isn't just a problem with older studio lights, some older camera mounted flash units are also a problem. I have two like this and must remember never to mount them on two of my camera bodies. Older Vivitar 285 and 283 flash units are notorious for this, likely due to the huge quantities of them made and being commonly found in the old, used generic flash bins at camera stores and at garage sales. It's easily measured using a voltmeter. Old ones will run several hundred volts across the contacts. The new versions shouldn't be more than about six volts. Canon's current camera bodies, both film and digital, are apparently among the more sensitive to higher voltage triggers (I've seen a lot of discussion about this on other forums).

Even with older lights having low voltage flash triggers that won't damage the camera, I've encountered a few problems with a couple camera bodies (they're not Canon) not being able to trigger the lights reliably from a PC cord. Seems the internal light electronics doesn't present enough of a "load" to the camera's triggering electronics. Sometimes, reversing the polarity of the trigger cord solves the problem and sometimes it doesn't. Depends on camera/lights. I know that the Olympus OM-2S, OM-4 and OM-4T are sensitive to this; Olympus' earlier OM bodies with electronic shutters used mechanical relays (OM-2 and OM-2n). Again, current lights shouldn't be a problem . . . and I've never encountered one with a variety of them.

I always measure the trigger voltage with a voltmeter before using lights (or a non-OEM camera mounted flash) I haven't used before. If in doubt about older lights, there are devices that can protect newer cameras from high voltage flash triggers. Paramount and Wein both make them. I don't know if they help with cameras that are finicky about older lights with low voltage triggers. I've always worked around that by using slaves and a very low powered shoe mounted flash aimed straight up to trigger them.

-- John

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10/6/2003 8:01:04 AM

Ignacio Alvarez   A most definite YES!!!

How do you think old photographers found the correct lens aperture without a flash meter?

This is how you have to do it.

Set your light the way you want main light and fill in light. Set the shutter speed on your camera to 1/60. Using several sheets of paper 8.5 X 11, write an aperture on each sheet starting with f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8 f/11, f/16 and f/22. Have your assistant or any other person hold one sheet of paper at the time and take one picture of your assistant with each aperture. Have the film developed.

One of these pictures will look very good. You will be able to know which aperture you used in the lens because your subject will have in its hands the sheet of paper that has the correct aperture printed on it.

Now every time you take pictures with this setup, all you have to do is set your light at the same distance and output and you will be all set. You may want to do a test with your light set at different distances. Just write everything down so you know what is what.

Ignacio Alvarez

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10/9/2003 11:12:00 AM

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