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10-24-2019, 03:43 AM   #1
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Question: Best inexpensive fast flash suitable for sport/cycling photography?

Hi all

I'd really appreciate some advice from more experienced users about what sort of flash gun I could use with my Pentax K-30 to take sport photography in relatively low light. Specifically, I have been trying to photograph local cyclo-cross races which take place in daylight but often under cover of trees etc and on gloomy days. I got a couple of acceptable shots the last time I tried it but generally I struggled to get the shutter speed high enough and the ISO low enough.

I have a Sigma TTL flash gun currently but am not particularly experienced with it and it takes a very long time to recharge between flashes which isn't terribly helpful when I am trying to take successive shots quickly. Is there anything out there that you'd recommend that is a faster to recharge, is suitable for the sort of application I am describing and isn't too expensive?

Any suggestions gratefully received!

10-24-2019, 05:13 AM - 1 Like   #2
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Is using multiple units an option? The more units the lower power needed per device which translates into faster recharge times.
10-24-2019, 05:14 AM   #3
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I have two manual flash heads, neither was over $40. They can fire a couple of shots at high power in burst mode, but you'd still have to carefully manage your shots. I assume (expensive) studio strobes are what you'd need to get significantly better performance.
10-24-2019, 06:12 AM - 1 Like   #4
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The only inexpensive flash for Pentax I feel like suggesting is the Yongnuo YN585EX.
But I have to say that I own one of those and after a year of usage AF assist light is dead. And there's no way to turn it off, so the camera doesn't use its own when the flash is mounted.
Now I'm looking for a definitive solution like Metz 58 Af2 or the Pentax af540fgz ii, so I can't say it was really a deal but if you are on a tight budget it's absolutely a blast for your bucks.

10-24-2019, 07:48 AM - 3 Likes   #5
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If you need shutter speeds above 1/180 (the flash sync speed of the K-30), then you'll need a flash with HSS (high-speed sync). Otherwise you'll get weird ghosting artifacts where some parts of the cyclist that are lit by the flash are frozen but other parts that are lit by ambient light are blurred. The high speed of a flash's pulse only truly freezes motion if there is very little ambient light relative to the flash output. But you can't have that in day time sporting events without picking settings that totally under-expose the background and make the shot look like it happened at night.

Being able to shoot bursts and having a fast recycle time depends on either using a small fraction of the flash's total output (by using a bigger, more expensive flash) or buying a flash with a high-voltage add-on battery (also adding costs).

One alternative to all this is to adjust the shooting conditions to reduce dependence on spray-and-pray and reduce the motion of the cyclist across the field of view. Techniques like catch-in-focus reduce the chance of missed shots. Shooting at a distance where the subject is coming toward you (instead of nearby and sweeping past you), means there's less blur.

Another alternative is to make blur a feature of the image by intentionally slowing the shutter and using the subject's motion or panning to blur the image more. Adding a low-power fill flash with rear curtain sync can light and freeze the subject's face with the blur nicely trailing behind them.

Finally, maybe a higher ISO isn't so bad. "Embrace the grain!" A bit of noise reduction in post and especially if the image is only for social media sizes means that higher ISO can work and is certainly the cheapest and easiest solution.
10-24-2019, 09:26 PM - 1 Like   #6
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As a cyclist, I'm not sure I'd want a flash going off in my face during a race...
10-24-2019, 10:04 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by calsan Quote
As a cyclist, I'm not sure I'd want a flash going off in my face during a race...
It's so brief, and so weak compared to daylight, you notice it going off if you're looking at it, but that's about it.

10-25-2019, 05:52 AM - 1 Like   #8
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If you don't need HSS, the fastest flashes for recycling are those with Li-Ion batteries. I use Godox V850 in the studio:

Godox Ving V850 System Review - Introduction | PentaxForums.com Reviews

They're manual but recharge amazingly fast. If you need HSS, then an external battery pack with a PTTL flash is your best bet. It's going to be more expensive, however.
10-31-2019, 09:59 AM   #9
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Thanks very much to everyone for your replies - I have been away for a couple of days so only had time to catch up on these now. I will mull these over.
11-01-2019, 02:01 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
It's so brief, and so weak compared to daylight, you notice it going off if you're looking at it, but that's about it.
I would beg to differ - the OP specifically stated low-light conditions, so a flash, especially close-to, would be blinding. Even if the flash duration is short, the after effects on the eyeball can last for several seconds - not recommended at speed !
11-01-2019, 02:09 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
I would beg to differ - the OP specifically stated low-light conditions, so a flash, especially close-to, would be blinding. Even if the flash duration is short, the after effects on the eyeball can last for several seconds - not recommended at speed !
It's daytime bike racing, 35mmfilmfan!

I have been photographed with flash and strobes while running and riding many times!

By the inverse square law the problem will be the opposite - too weak to make any difference to the shot. OP has a weak speedlight. You need to tape four of them together to get near a strobe.
11-01-2019, 03:27 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
It's daytime bike racing, 35mmfilmfan! <snip>
I accept this, but in the winter light levels are low, apart from any inclement weather (for which cyclo-cross is notorious). The events are, of necessity, 'off road', and frequently go through wooded areas, and it is the difference between the illumination to which the eye has become accustomed, and the sudden bright flash, that I feel could be an issue.

Check out this Video, then ask if you would appreciate a flash being used at close quarters in these conditions.


Last edited by 35mmfilmfan; 11-02-2019 at 03:32 AM. Reason: Added video
11-03-2019, 03:00 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
I accept this, but in the winter light levels are low, apart from any inclement weather (for which cyclo-cross is notorious). The events are, of necessity, 'off road', and frequently go through wooded areas, and it is the difference between the illumination to which the eye has become accustomed, and the sudden bright flash, that I feel could be an issue.

Check out this Video, then ask if you would appreciate a flash being used at close quarters in these conditions.

Cyclo-Cross Championships (1967) - YouTube
I have shot both ride cycling and cyclocross, @35mmfilmfan, and ridden both kinds of events, by the sound of your posts you don't have the experience.

I have shot owls at night with flash, the Raptor centre I went to in Illinois last year was happy for anyone to have flash used indoors on their subjects (although I didn't do it), and a hospital in the States makes it quite clear that flash photography is fine with the newborn babies.

You have to understand that the duration is of the order 1/10000s to 1/1000s, and is usually just a doubling (one stop) above the ambient.

Models I've shot always prefer the HSS flash I use because they're not pained and squinting unlike when other photographers deploy reflectors.

And I 'eat my own dogfood', practice what I preach. This is me just a few months ago under the trees on a dark rainy day doing a trail run down a steep descent over a log. You notice the pro's powerful remote strobe has gone off, but it's so brief, that's it, you're not reeling about blinded or whatever, that's an absurd fiction from you!
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11-03-2019, 03:33 PM   #14
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@Clackers, I am in my late sixties, and rode my first competetive events (massed start, time trial, track, hill-climb and yes, cyclo cross) from when I was fourteen onwards, before health issues intervened. I have no desire to enter an argument with you - let us just agree to differ on this matter.
11-04-2019, 08:50 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
@Clackers, I am in my late sixties, and rode my first competetive events (massed start, time trial, track, hill-climb and yes, cyclo cross) from when I was fourteen onwards, before health issues intervened. I have no desire to enter an argument with you - let us just agree to differ on this matter.
Then you should know this!

Anyway, all the best, take care, mate.

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