External Flash on a Point and Shoot

Enter My World!

By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Feb 9, 2013
External Flash on a Point and Shoot

An external flash to use on a point and shoot? Can it be done with good outcome even if the flash is bigger than the camera? Well, read on to find out!

I own (apart from the K-30) a very good Panasonic LX3, which is an amazing piece of equipment: 10.2 megapixels, F2.0 Leica Lens and 24mm wide angle (in 35mm format). What I didn't like about it was the pop up flash. The light was just to harsh on the pictures and the LX3 is not know for good dynamic range. In fact, pictures with the pop up flash where a total flush! It got me frustrated to a point that I just refused to turn the flash on, and instead went on to bump up the ISO to 3600 or more. The problem is that the LX3 has a small sensor, and even with that great Leica piece of glass in front of it, the noise was just too much.

2 years ago, my baby girl was born. 1 month before the date of birth, I decided it was time to upgrade something, as really wanted to get good pictures of her. Well, if your wife is pregnant, the baby is the BEST excuse in the world for buying stuff you really want. Call it hormones, call it "she doesn't care" or just plains simple "If it is better for the baby, it is worth it". Mine was #3!

So, I it was decided: I should get a new flash unit to fit my Panasonic LX3 and the world of good pictures would be at my feet! 

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Enter the World of Flashes: How was I supposed to know that even if the slots are the same for flashes, the electric contacts are not the same in the same places? Well, after a bit of online research, I did discover the flash to go it and finally ended up buying a Metz unit. Always heard good things about Metz, and I always like to buy a good brand. Usually when you buy a a good brand, things are better, the guarantee is  better and post sale service is a lot better... I bought the Metz 48 AF1, which has a guide number of 48. 48 is enough for everybody (Remembering Bill Gates in 1980 - 640k is enough for anybody).

So, here is the Flash right next to my LX3:


So, 48 is enough, but someone should have told me that was not the only thing to know about flash using... After I bought it, I ended up discovering that using a flash is not just

  1. Charge batteries,
  2. Put in the camera
  3. turn the flash to the ON position
  4. Making sure the flash fires even when not needed (camera controlled).

I discovered then, that using the flash right at peoples faces, did make it quite hard, and even powering the Flash unit to -1Ev or even -2EV, it still was very hard and I was getting a lot of shadows, very big and ugly shadows! Come on, isn't a flash supposed to help me get ride of does? Isn't it supposed to get me good pictures, bring me the morning paper and getting lunch delivered to me at work?

 Enter the world of Bouncing.. I then learn this beautiful thing, that is: Point the flash to something you don't want to take a picture:

  • To the ceiling
  • To the floor
  • To the walls behind me
  • To the table
  • To the chair..
  • ...

Anything can bounce some light, but usually it isn't perfect. If the wall is painted in red, it can change the color of the light, and White Balance becomes critical.. Did I mentioned that I just wanted good pictures of my baby girl? I did not knew I had to have a physics and nuclear degree to learn how to work with a flash...

One day, attending a wedding I noticed how the wedding photographer used a small  white thing on the back of the flash. My Metz had it too, a small bouncing white plastic thing - I had already tried it, but the results where so far away from good, that I thought it was in another galaxy far far away!.. But this one was bigger, a lot bigger... I went home and for some reason that thing kept coming back to my mind. How can he be making good pictures with it, is the flash at full power? Is the Flash giving consistent results? Is it bringing him the morning paper? Well, only one way to find out:

Enter another World - A men garage: Passing the car tires, the bike parts and the pizza from last Sunday, let's see what's inside all does boxes of things you just didn't want to throw out because one day you might just need it...and in need I was! A small plastic sheet was discovered. I just had to cut it and try it.. Did a sketch on it with a ruler and a pencil and I was a ninja ready to attack with my fists. But fists usually don't cut things, so another approach:

Well, here is the look of it, next to the camera and the Metz.: 

I did it in the way I could, not using laser cutting but a small sharp knife - Still Ninja Style To put it in place and to be able to get it out when not needed I thought of tape, velcro and a lot of other things. Understanding that sometimes life is like a photographic composition: Simple is a lot better: I used a good old elastic band as you can see in the above picture - Great, Cheap and easy to replace. What more to ask from it?

So, my project of flash understanding/using/getting-good-results is done and this is how it looks:

Yes, I know it has a strange look. I know it is enormous when compared to the camera.. But I don't care if people look at me, if they say: "Pal, your flash is bigger than your camera", what I care is that I get good results. So, here are 2 examples:

Taken at the beach, in a 3PM sun above us. No clouds and it was just a sunny hot day. Did I mention it was SUN? You can see it coming from the top right, but the face is well lit and without shades. Without a good external flash and with the lack of dynamic range of the LX3, this shot would be impossible. So, shooting with backlight is now possible. I know I could use a reflector, but I want to go out with my kid not go on a photo shot everytime. The ones that read this and that are fathers know you need the back of the van space to carry balls, plastic ducks, 7 Barbie's, 1 Mickey Mouse and at least 2 teddy bears.. I can't bring the full photographic equipment or 2 things might just happen:

  1. My daughter won't fit in the car and I don't want to go to the beach alone
  2. As I enter the beach I will sunk with all that weight on my shoulders!!!


This one is taken indoors in a bad lit room. You can see the detail all over the face and even the back has some good light too. No post processing. Just exported the jpg in picasa...

(Click images to enlarge)

This one is a favorite of mine. It was taken at my mother's 67th birthday. I ended up getting very good pictures of her, my father, my daughter and of all of us together. And this is what I always wanted.

I am not a pro and I don't want to be a pro - still wouldn't mind to get pro quality pictures. All I want is to get pictures of moments, paerties, someone's birthday, holidays and expect does pictures to be the best that I can get them, with a not so big effort. That is why I shoot in JPG. Just don't have the time to edit every one of my pictures. Besides, camera JPEGs are getting better and better these days.

I always think a good picture is sometimes more about good exposure than having it extra super sharp (notice I don't say out of focus or shaken camera). So, for me good lighting is critical for a good picture. Of course you need framing, aperture and speed. But hey, you need to start somewhere and the flash on the LX3 was bugging me the most. That is how you should resolve things: Start with the most hard, and many time you discover the small ones where taken care by the big one to!

So, this is my small story. If you think your indoor pictures are a bit flat, the backgrounds are always terrible and the faces look like silver, don't look any more: A good external flash might just be the trick for you. And if it worked that great in a Point and Shoot, imagine how it can change the pictures on your fantastic Pentax DSLR.

Just a small PS: Did I mention I will have to get one for my Pentax K-30, as the Panasonic hot shoe does not work on the Pentax? Enter the World of Pentax...

- zorza




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