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04-10-2013, 05:44 AM   #1
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Death to P-TTL (and other proprietary flash protocols)

It strikes me that in all areas of technology you get popular thing, slightly less popular thing and ghettos. For example, you have iPad, Android and Blackberry Playbook.

In lighting this would be Nikon E-TTL, Canon I-TTL and every other bloody manufacturer's proprietary protocol.

I'm OK with P-TTL - I kinda understand its quirks and limitations. But I've just got a Fuji. This will be for available light shooting because I'm damned if I'm going to spend money on any of their crappy flashes. So why don't the manufacturers agree on a vendor-neutral protocol? The key word here is protocol. After all, I'd be stuffed if the PC that I'm typing on spoke a different version of TCP/IP than the server on which this site is hosted.

I know that giving up proprietary stuff is hard to do - there are egos involved, after all. And it's anathema to the very idea of vendor lock-in. But here's the thing: it works both ways. If Pentax cameras spoke E-TTL, I'd be able to mount Nikon Speedlights. I'm sure Pentax wouldn't want that. But, if I'm a Nikon user with any sort of investment in Nikon lighting, then the fact that Pentax cameras could use my existing lights with no limitations would remove a major barrier to switching brands. It would remove a barrier to professional uptake too: suddenly Pocket Wizards and other groovy third-party gadgets work with no limitations.

So, Pentax: drop P-TTL. Maybe keep it as a body option so that people's existing flashes don't suddenly become significantly less useful (although you've done that before). License E-TTL (or even reverse engineer it; what do Metz do?). There's prior art here: Pentax are one of the few manufacturers to realize that a plethora of proprietary raw formats is just rubbish and switched to vendor-neutral DNG.

04-10-2013, 06:33 AM   #2
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Why don't the manufacturers agree on a vendor-neutral protocol? Same reason they don't agree on a vendor-neutral lens mount. Supporting off-brand lenses doesn't earn Pentax any money. And the users that are all set and happy with their PTTL lenses will all be angry because they'll be "forced" to buy a new flash.
04-10-2013, 07:52 AM   #3
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I think it would make sense for *Pentax* to speak other systems' languages, particularly since they haven't been too interested in flashes, themselves, (I accept this because I'm not, either. I'd be happy as a clam with good old fashioned auto flash with a simple 'off the film' electric eye, myself. )

..and there's also the fact that there's a lot of people who use the other brands for working and Pentax for their personal stuff. They'd surely rather just have one flash system to worry about/carry around.

Simply put, *no* one is going to look at P-TTL and say, "Oh, man, I just *gotta* have that, I think I'll go Pentax." So it might be a good idea for them, ...at least if they don't come out with a vastly-improved system. (That's assuming Nikon really wants to share compatibility.)

I'd really say that Pentax either needs to improve their system or go with something simple, robust, and reliable. Which could of itself be a selling point: a lot of serious Pentaxians are DIYers, and the average customer seems to be generally bewildered by all the fancy stuff anyway.

I do think it *would* be interesting and doable if Pentax made its own flashes with a simple auto-flash mode that would work passably-well on anyone *else's* stuff, perhaps simply ignoring everything but the center contact.
04-10-2013, 07:56 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by top-quark Quote
License E-TTL
Nikon would never agree to that. They don,t even license their lens mount to third-parety manufacturers.

QuoteOriginally posted by top-quark Quote
or even reverse engineer it; what do Metz do?
That doesn't sound very likely from a "major" manufacturer.

Olympus (and a few others) tried to create an industry standard with 4/3 and then m4/3. they ended up alone with Panasonic both times. Sadly this industry is not interested in standards, just look at the amount of memory card formats (CF, then SD, MMS, xD, and now that SD is de facto the standard, you get all sort of upgrades, plus you have microSD which many people can't understand is not the same as SD).

It would be an interesting concept, to be sure. I'm convinced manufacturers looked at it, and calculated that it would not be economical for them.

In any case, any serious studio photographer uses manual,right?

04-10-2013, 07:58 AM   #5
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It's an exact zero sum game, though. What you lose from one guy buying Nikon strobes, you gain from someone else buying Pentax.

Don't have to lose P-TTL compatibility - make it like PEF which you can enable if you really, really want to. Or be smart and detect whether the mounted flash supports the new vendor-neutral protocol or your old vendor-specific one.

Another advantage: stops people whingeing endlessly about how rubbish P-TTL is. They can whinge about E-TTL instead.
04-10-2013, 08:09 AM   #6
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I think this is a great idea, but enough vendors have to be at the margins in order for them to be motivated. (And one might argue that Pentax already is at the margins.)

As you mentioned, DNG support is a good example. Actually, maybe that is a little bit unique, because DNG was developed by a non-camera vendor, so being the first to support it is a distinguishing feature for Pentax. Pentax made that optional on the K-5 in addition to PEF, so folks aren't forced to change. I'm a little surprised that they dropped support for PEF so soon in the K-01 and K-30 but maybe they saw that no one else was moving to DNG yet, and after doing the analysis, there was little risk to doing so.

I was going to suggest that mFT is another example of vendor neutrality that has worked well. But maybe that is not such a good example. I think Olympus was more desperate to shed the stigma of the proprietary full 4/3 mount, which maybe had become more of a hindrance, rather than just an annoyance. Probably not enough customers are making their decisions based on the flash system, whereas the mount drives a more considerable investment.

Maybe Sony's move to supporting standard ISO hot shoes is a step in this direction.
04-10-2013, 08:22 AM - 2 Likes   #7
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I think the best way to sum up my feelings on this discussion is this XKCD comic:



It may interest you to know that I do use my Nikon speedlights in combination with pentax flash units - you have to set up the pentax/nikon flashes to their optical slave mode. But it works very well and you gain the ability to use the manual 1/3rd stop flash control offered by nikon flash units. The pentax AF160FC ringflash produces a brilliant pulse of light that any optically slaved flash can see even in daylight from 30 feet away - I have tested this. So I frequently use the AF160FC because of this - also ring flash being a shadowless light source means it is great for taming high ratio lighting.

Last edited by Digitalis; 04-10-2013 at 09:29 AM.
04-10-2013, 08:58 AM   #8
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Nice one! Sometimes sanity does prevail, though (UTF-8 character encoding, for example, is near universal). Other times, the ecosystem creates dinosaurs (anyone still using Netware?).

And, yes, Sony finally joined the rest of the world in losing one proprietary component that everyone else agreed should be universal.

04-10-2013, 10:37 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by top-quark Quote
It's an exact zero sum game, though. What you lose from one guy buying Nikon strobes, you gain from someone else buying Pentax.
I dispute that affirmation. In your example, Nikon would sell much more flashes than would Pentax.

QuoteOriginally posted by top-quark Quote
everyone else agreed
which is not the case here. Everyone disagrees.

QuoteOriginally posted by Digitalis Quote
I think the best way to sum up my feelings on this discussion is this XKCD comic:
Yep. That one is among the best ever.
04-10-2013, 11:07 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by bdery Quote
I dispute that affirmation. In your example, Nikon would sell much more flashes than would Pentax.



which is not the case here. Everyone disagrees.



Yep. That one is among the best ever.
Nikon already sell a shedload more flashes than Pentax. It's not as though as lighting is core to the Pentax business - it's a requirement to market a system. My point is that if, for example, Pentax could use Nikon flashes and vice versa (and I don't mean manual-only), then, yes, some Pentax people would buy Nikon flashes. But the other side of the coin is that Pentax flashes could be sold to Nikon users and there are a lot more of them than there are of us. Then the competition is on price and functionality, as it should be.

"Proprietary protocol". Pfeh! It's as oxymoronic as "fresh frozen".
04-10-2013, 12:37 PM   #11
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Why should we have standard P-TTL? What a bloody unrealistic expectation. After all, once we went away from manual and/AUTO flash to have even a flash ready light in the viewfinder, every company did something different

There are 30 years of ingrained lack of compatibility. Why change now.
04-10-2013, 01:01 PM - 1 Like   #12
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Anyone know Esperanto?
04-10-2013, 01:08 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
Why should we have standard P-TTL? What a bloody unrealistic expectation. After all, once we went away from manual and/AUTO flash to have even a flash ready light in the viewfinder, every company did something different

There are 30 years of ingrained lack of compatibility. Why change now.
It's not an unreasonable expectation. Twenty years ago you had around ten networking protocols. Today you've got one. An open protocol benefited everyone, software companies included.

Before anyone points it out, I got the protocols the wrong way round. As any fule kno, E-TTL is Canon's protocol, not Nikon's.

Interesting article:
Nikon Flash Interface
04-10-2013, 01:15 PM   #14
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I have a Yongnuo manual flash and didn't realise until I bought a Metz that PTTL uses a pre-flash. So in many situations, by the time the camera takes the shot the moment has already passed. I'm straight back to using manual mode 98% of the time.

Pretty useless.
04-10-2013, 01:30 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Jonathan Mac Quote
I have a Yongnuo manual flash and didn't realise until I bought a Metz that PTTL uses a pre-flash. So in many situations, by the time the camera takes the shot the moment has already passed. I'm straight back to using manual mode 98% of the time.

Pretty useless.
Huh? The metering negotiation between body and flash should happen in milliseconds and shouldn't be noticeable. Sounds more like red-eye reduction to me.
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