I got some Christmas and birthday gifts in cash, and an admonishment from Marguerite that she wanted it to go toward something I wanted, not just filling in our general fund, and she wanted to know what I got with it.
Something I had been looking for was a better electronic flash solution for the Olympus E-M5 and other Micro-Four-Thirds gear I have. For Nikon, I have two Nikon SB-800 flash units with the CLR system, and those work brilliantly with Nikon. I had been looking into third-party flash gear for the Olympus because buying within brand for flash does not come cheap there. The Nikon flashes, for instance, were several hundred dollars, each. So I was going through reviews of Neewer, Nissin, Yongnuo, and like brands, looking for something that would creditably provide light and TTL interaction with the camera.
I’ll note that I have been using some old gear with the Olympus: a Vivitar 3700 thyristor flash with a standard module (only has the trigger contact in the shoe and ground). That works OK as a self-metering flash unit, and it provides three levels of automatic exposure that is decent if not spectacular at getting an exposure. I bought a pair of 3700s back around 1985 for $40 each, as open box returns at Service Merchandise, and have ended up with a couple more since then. The 3700 units I’ve tested have had quiescent voltages across the trigger of about 9V. My even older Vivitar 283 flash units have had trigger voltages over 200V, which are decidedly unsafe to use with digital gear without running through an opto-isolator or similar circuit, like the Wein SafeSync. The 3700 has OK power with an advertised guide number of 110 at ISO 100. So why look for better gear? I really want flash for two things: macro photography and portable portrait photography. I believe that Vivitar used to make a variable power module for the 3700, but I don’t have one (or four). For macro work, I’m mostly going to want either TTL capability or a consistent power-level for a pop, and the 3700 doesn’t give either. For multi-flash portraits, fiddling with adjustments on multiple self-metered flashes to get what I want gets tedious and tends to interfere with interacting with subjects. Given how nicely the Nikon flashes work together, having a path toward similar good functionality for Olympus seemed like a good thing to track as I researched options.
Something I hadn’t really been thinking about was radio control for multiple flashes. The Nikon CLS system uses optical communication IIRC, which has been fine for my main uses. And I have a variety of plain optical slaves, which if I have flashes on manual will work fine for synchronization, but there goes TTL capability.
Then I came across a web page headlined something like, “Godox Quietly Launched Cross-Brand TTL and HSS On All Lights”. Whoa, check that out. As I read, things looked even better than I had thought. Godox is another third-party electronic flash maker, and they have been making flashes with radio control built-in. The article was saying that instead of having to buy separate flash gear for use for each major brand/type of camera you work with, the Godox controllers could now be used to work with most major brand flashes paired with a Godox receiver, delivering both TTL and high-speed sync (HSS) capabilities. So that brought up a question: how expensive are those receivers? And the answer was that those are right around $40. The Godox gear is sold by Adorama in the USA under their store-brand name, Flashpoint, and the particular radio control system in the latest gear is called the R2 system.
That sounded promising. I opened a chat session with an Adorama rep to confirm what I thought they were saying, that if I had either a controller or a Micro-Four-Thirds (MFT) Flashpoint flash, that I would be able to use my Nikon SB-800s with an R2 receiver for TTL work. I was assured that would work fine.
So then I was looking at specific gear and keeping within the gift budget. The controller unit is $45, and receivers are $40, so I could get a MFT controller and two Nikon receivers in the R2 system for $125. Some more reading led me to a comment that the control interface is actual easier on an R2 flash. I eventually settled on a FlashPoint R2 Zoom TTL flash for MFT and an R2 receiver for Nikon. I got the AA battery version of the flash and not the lithium-ion battery version because of the almost $80 price difference between the two. The AA version cost $110, and the receiver was $40, which almost exactly equalled the gift budget.
I did spend a fairly frustrating period of time actually getting the Nikon SB-800 to work with the controlling flash on MFT. The flash has to be in TTL mode, and you have to give it a test pop before the controller knows enough to actual control it accurately. That said, I did get it working, and, yes, multi-flash TTL with flashes from different systems does fine.
I have done some familiarization with using the Flashpoint Zoom TTL on the Olympus E-M5 on its own, and I’ve been impressed. There is usually a little tweaking required with flash exposure compensation to get exposure just as you like it, but once dialed in it delivers it well. I’ve been pairing the flash with a Vello inflatable light modifier, and that does a nice job for on-camera flash. It even works pretty well for spreading light for macro. I have a sheet of translucent plastic I have cut to just fit on the end of my macro lens, and I’ve mostly been able to skip using it in favor of just using the Vello. What I’ve done recently is hike the ISO higher so that I can get good exposure of interior backgrounds while giving foreground subjects just enough light from the flash to add some pop to them.
One downside is that the flash is pretty large compared to the Olympus E-M5 body. The Zoom-Mini (a re-labeled Godox TT350) would be a better match for size without dropping the guide number drastically, but the article on cross-brand compatibility noted that model as not having full compatibility. That may change with further firmware updates.
I’d like to use the Zoom TTL flash on a bracket, but then I am back to needing either a controller or a cable to not have to have the flash in the camera hot shoe. As it is, I’ve avoided vertical shots with the camera so I don’t get the odd side-shadow effect. Somewhere I had seen advice that a Canon TTL cable had the same pinouts as the MFT flash system, but a trial of one with the Zoom TTL resulted in no flashes, while it worked fine with a Canon rig. I don’t know whether the particular cable had some circuitry that rendered it non-operational for MFT, or if the Flashpoint Zoom’s electronics don’t work well with the signal delays a TTL cable may introduce. I ended up getting an alternative cable for MFT that works with the flash. Ironically, even though it was sold as being for MFT, the user’s guide that came with it was all about Canon.
In order to make the system work with both Nikon and Olympus with all the TTL flashes, I’ve acquired a Nikon R2 controller and another Nikon R2 receiver. Adding an Olympus R2 controller would make everything flexible for off-camera placement, but I haven’t gone that far yet.
Something I was a bit slow on the uptake about was the ability to trigger a camera using the R2 system. The R2 receiver comes with cables not only for connecting to a flash that will be set manually and merely triggered, but also that can hook up to a camera’s remote control jack. I need to check with Adorama, but something I am thinking about is that with two of the Olympus E-M5s, perhaps it would be possible to use two R2 receivers for synchronized triggering of the shutter releases. If that works, then with identical lenses on both cameras, it should be possible to set up to do real-time stereo photography. The E-M5s have a pretty small offset from base of camera to lens mount, so the overall lens-center to lens-center distance could end up being pretty close to stand human inter-ocular distance. I’m eyeballing about 33mm as lens center to camera base, so even adding 10mm for connectors to join the two cameras only ends up at 76mm total, which is very slightly beyond the usual wide side of inter-ocular distances. If the mounting space can be reduced, then the total would fall into the usual range of inter-ocular distances, and stereo pairs should be reasonably comfortable for viewing.